Focus-Science and Technology - - Neuroscience -

At a molec­u­lar level, psilo­cy­bin works on the sero­tonin sys­tem in the brain. Sero­tonin is a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter that sends sig­nals be­tween neigh­bour­ing nerve cells. It’s of­ten de­scribed as the ‘happy chem­i­cal’, but in fact there is a com­plex and poorly un­der­stood re­la­tion­ship be­tween sero­tonin and mood.

Psilo­cy­bin sticks to the sero­tonin 2A re­cep­tor – 1 of 14 dif­fer­ent types of sero­tonin re­cep­tor found on nerve cells – and ap­pears to in­duce a state known as plas­tic­ity, where sys­tems and path­ways in the brain can be re­set. A prin­ci­pal sys­tem af­fected by psilo­cy­bin is the de­fault mode net­work, which is in­volved in higher-level con­scious func­tions in­clud­ing our sense of self (ego) and the story we con­struct about our iden­tity and place in the world.

De­pres­sion is char­ac­terised by en­trenched, in­tru­sive thought pat­terns, re­flected by ab­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity in the de­fault mode net­work. Un­der the in­flu­ence of psilo­cy­bin, this net­work seems to tem­po­rar­ily dis­solve and break down, lead­ing to a loss of self-iden­tity and a strong sense of in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness with the rest of the world. It lit­er­ally opens the mind.

By break­ing down these em­bed­ded sys­tems and al­low­ing them to re­form in a new way, psilo­cy­bin can help to ‘re­set’ the brain. This could pro­vide a way for peo­ple to break free from their de­pres­sion and move to­wards health­ier thought pat­terns.

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